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German politician of Austrian origin, Adolf Hitler was chancellor and dictator of the Third German Reich from 1933 to 1945. At the head of a state that had become totalitarian, he organized, with the Nazi party he founded, the recruitment of the population and the repression of oppositions, then carries out his project of hegemony over Europe which he plunges into chaos and desolation. Imposing the "final solution" of the Jewish question which will cost the lives of several million people, Hitler will drag Germany into a desperate headlong rush. Refusing the prospect of defeat, he killed himself at the end of April 1945 in his bunker besieged by the Red Army. The failed and complexed artist who has become one of the greatest criminals in the history of mankind thus escapes the justice of the victors and leaves behind him a Europe in ruins.
From the trenches to political engagement
Born on April 20, 1889 in the small town of Braunau am Inn in Austria, Adolf Hitler is the son of an austere customs official. Little Adolf, a mediocre student, dreams of the fate of an artist. Orphaned at a young age (his father died in 1903, his mother in 1907), he lived in Vienna trying unsuccessfully to enter the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts. A marginal petty bourgeois, a great lover of Wagner, he immersed himself in political theories and soon fell into an anti-Semitic Pan-Germanism nourished by a growing aversion for a multi-ethnic society where the "Germanic race" that he thought superior would be crushed by the Slavs and corrupted by the Jews. The 1914 war finds him exiled to Munich and finally gives meaning to the existence of this talentless painter. Enlisted in a Bavarian regiment, Hitler will courageously serve Germany as a courier.
Like many German fighters, he takes the news of the armistice as a national betrayal. Returning to Munich, he took a keen interest in the local political scene (notably because of his military activities) which led him to discover a small ultranationalist, anti-communist and anti-Semitic party, the DAP (German Workers' Party, later NSDAP). Hitler signed up and quickly became its leader. A talented orator, with increasingly extremist speeches, he eventually convinced himself that he was a providential man who would work for the recovery of Germany: the Führer (guide). Believing the Weimar Republic to be on the verge of collapse, he attempted a coup in 1923 which failed miserably. The prosperous Germany of the early twenties was still not very receptive to his theses.
Adolf Hitler's March to Power
He then moved from action to ideas, by writing, during his imprisonment for "high treason", Mein Kampf (My Fight), his fundamental work which turned out to be a real political program. Its geopolitical ambitions and its racial ideology therefore form the basis of its National Socialist program. Once free, Hitler reorganized the NSDAP with the aim of being brought to power by the ballot box. The Nazis then associated very effective political propaganda with the use of force and intimidation, through their militia, the SA.
The crisis that hit Germany in 1929 allowed the NSDAP to emerge from the margins and place itself on the front of the stage. The party, which had grown only slowly until 1930, made a meteoric breakthrough, becoming the main German political force. After being defeated in the election for the presidency of the republic in 1932, Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, after having coaxed the traditional conservative and nationalist parties. After the legislative elections of March 1933, he obtained full powers and became Reichsführer on the death of Hindeburg in August 1934. He had a free hand to carry out his disastrous projects, with the complicity of his loyal and zealous supporters Joseph Goebbels , Hermann Göring or Heinrich Himmler.
The Nazi regime and the war
In less than a year, the new Führer imposes dictatorship and builds a totalitarian and racist state, ruthlessly eliminating all his political opponents, whether they are the Communists (the Reichstag fire affair) or the left wing of his own party (night of the long knives and elimination of Ernst Röhm). The resulting Third Reich wants to be a leading power and Hitler puts forward an aggressive diplomatic agenda. As Germany rearms at high speed, it destroys the order imposed by the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the Rhineland, annexing Austria and then the Sudetenland. When Poland refuses to submit to its claims on Danzig, World War II breaks out. The first campaigns are real triumphs: Poland, Scandinavia, Benelux and France, Yugoslavia and Greece. The swastika floats over almost the entire continent. On June 22, 1941, when he launched his armies against the Soviet Union, Hitler believed he was accomplishing a historic task that would ensure the sustainability of his new empire.
The Soviet armies retreat first, but do not break. On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, already in conflict with Japan since December 7. Confronted on the one hand with the immensity of Russian territory and on the other hand with American power, the difficulty is too great for Germany. Despite the gloomy outlook, Hitler continued to carry out his genocidal program against the Jews and other populations deemed "inferior" by the Nazi ideology. The implementation of the "final solution" after the Wannsee conference causes several million deaths, in concentration camps or forced labor. Europe sinks into terror, when Hitler, once a skilful manipulator, definitively loses his sense of reality.
The German army retreated, suffered defeat after defeat. Refusing the prospect of defeat, Hitler does not want to let go, leaving millions of civilians and combatants suffering. In 1944, a group of German officers from Operation Valkyrie, led by Colonel von Stauffenberg, attempted to assassinate him, without success. In the spring of 1945, despite the last attempts at resistance, Germany collapsed definitively.
Berlin, the capital of the Nazi Reich, is stormed by Soviet armies. In his bunker in the chancellery, Adolf Hitler finally recovered from his illusions as a megalomaniac, committed suicide with a bullet in the head during the night of April 29 to 30, 1945. At the end of the war, the country was occupied at the same time by the Soviets and the Western powers. The Führer wanted to make Germany a world power. Yet it will only leave a country divided, and that for almost half a century.
- Ian Kershaw's Hitler. Great biographies, Flammarion, 2008.
- Hitler by François Delpla, biography, Grasset, 1999.
- Hitler - Mussolini - Stalin, documentary by H. Kasten Ullrich. Arte Video, 2010.
- La Chute - Collector's Edition 3 DVD by Olivier Hirschbiegel. TF Video, 2005.